Suriname Indigenous Health Fund presentation at the OAS Inter-American Commission on Human Rights

Sarah Augustine recently presented the case of the Wayana people at the Organization of American States Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in Washington DC. Below is press release distributed to the media today from Heritage University where Sarah works.
There is also a video record of the proceedings. It is a very powerful presentation that shows the depth of the work SIHF has been doing to help the Wayana make their case for survival.  Also presenting with Sarah at the hearing were Doug Hostetter of the Mennonite Central Committee United Nations Office and Mark MacDonald, National Indigenous Anglican Bishop representing the World Council of Churches. This was a very significant event and has put intense pressure on the government of Suriname to protect the rights and the health of indigenous peoples in their country.

Video of the hearings at the 150thsession of the Organization of American States Inter-American Commission on Human Rights are available at the link below. Sarah presented on Thursday (Jueves), the 27th of March.  Scroll down to see the session from 3:15-4:15.


Heritage University Professor Implores Organization of American States to save Indigenous Peoples of Suriname threatened with extinction by Unrestrained Economic Development

Toppenish, WA – Heritage University assistant sociology Professor Sarah Augustine recently presented to the Organization of American States (OAS) her case for regulating illegal mining in the country of Suriname, an industry she has   documented proof of causation in the decimation of the indigenous Wayana peoples through pollution and disruption of livelihood.

Augustine was invited to present her evidence to the OAS’ Inter-American Commission on Human Rights on March 27 in Washington D.C. The presentation is her latest effort to draw attention to the plight of the Wayana. This hearing is the equivalent of a case in the United States being argued all the way to the Supreme Court. The Suriname Ambassador to the United States presented the case on behalf of the state of Suriname.

She presented the dire threats to the Wayana from unregulated mining. These include: environmental degradation; mercury and arsenic contamination of the food and water supply brought on by the dumping of mine waste; and the disruption of traditional food-gathering activities (hunting, fishing, and subsistence agriculture).

Augustine stated, “What’s been happening to the Wayana people is a tragedy, and the OAS must take immediate action to recommend that the government of Suriname provide food and water resources to the Wayana people immediately if they are to prevent their extinction; remediation of the land and water supply will be necessary for the long term survival of the Wayana.”

She also says the Wayana (one of twelve tribes in Suriname) are threatened by the lack of access to quality basic education; a Suriname legal system which doesn’t recognize the right of indigenous peoples to own land; cultural extermination, and government censorship.

Augustine and her partner Dan Peplow have been studying the Wayana community of Apetina on the Topanahoni River for ten years performing community-directed risk and health assessment studies with its members. Augustine and Peplow conducted their work as part of an international public health team. In 2010, the group worked with the University of Oklahoma human rights clinic to contribute to both the official and the “shadow” human rights report to the United Nations as part of the Universal Periodic Review.

The issue has been documented by “Indigenous Suriname,” an independent film that has won several awards, including the United Nations Population Fund for the Caribbean region (2009), the Latin American Video and Film Festival (2010), and has been accepted to the Smithsonian Native American Film and Video Festival (2011).

The plight of the Wayana was also the subject of a September 2012 story by Dan Rather Reports. A camera crew from Dan Rather Reports came to Heritage University in July 2012 to obtain video for the segment, which described the global epidemic of mercury contamination. While none of the Heritage footage was included in the final report, the University was still heavily involved in the creation of the story.

Augustine made several recommendations to improve conditions for the Wayana as afforded by the American Convention on Human Rights and other OAS treaties of which Suriname is a signatory. These include encouraging Suriname to regulate mining and prohibit mercury pollution; clean up waterways affected by mercury runoff; provide quality education to the interior areas of Suriname where the Wayana reside; and institute a system that recognizes collective land rights for indigenous peoples.

She urged the commission to visit the interior region of Suriname so they can witness for themselves the devastation caused by unregulated mining. “We believe they will be motivated to recommend changes to the Suriname government based on what they see,” said Augustine.

Augustine and Peplow are now waiting to hear what recommendations, if any, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights will make to the Suriname government. Suriname leaders must comply with possible recommendations from the commission in order for Suriname to remain an OAS member in good standing.

For more information, contact Sarah Augustine, Assistant Professor, (509) 865-8673 or